Special Topics in Safety Management

Bloodborne Pathogens: What Are Your Responsibilities?

The danger of bloodborne pathogen exposure extends beyond the healthcare profession. Today we look at ways your employees can minimize their risk and the measures OSHA requires you to implement in your workplace.

Yesterday’s Advisor explored the many workplace hazards endangering nurses and other healthcare professionals, with one of the most serious being exposure to bloodborne pathogens.

But just as exposure to these pathogens (disease-causing microorganisms that exist in human blood and certain other bodily fluids) is not limited to the hospital setting, neither is the danger limited to healthcare workers.

Housekeeping personnel in some settings and first-aid team members are two other groups singled out by OSHA as facing the danger. Other at-risk occupations include first responders, police, firefighters, funeral home employees, lifeguards, and camp counselors, to name a few.

But, as a safety professional, you need to keep in mind that any employee with occupational exposure is covered by OSHA’s bloodborne pathogens standard, regardless of job title or description.   

Employees teach themselves about bloodborne pathogens, as demanded by OSHA’s standard, with BLR’s Interactive CD Course: Bloodborne Pathogens program. Try it at no cost or risk. Get the details.

Occupational exposure is defined as reasonably anticipated skin, eye, mucous membrane, or parenteral (through the skin) contact with blood or other potentially infectious materials that may result from the performance of an employee’s duties. (Note that there is no minimum frequency of exposure. Any reasonable expectation that an employee will be exposed invokes the OSHA standard.)

In all, OSHA estimates that 5.6 million workers in the healthcare industry and related occupations are at risk of occupational exposure to bloodborne pathogens, including the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis B virus (HBV), hepatitis C virus (HCV), and others.

The potentially fatal consequences of this exposure cannot be over-emphasized. Consider:

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that AIDS has already killed more than 100,000 Americans.
  • Well over 1 million Americans are infected with the virus (HIV) that causes AIDS.
  • More than 162,000 new cases of hepatitis are reported each year.
  • Each year, about 8,700 healthcare workers are infected with hepatitis B, and some 200 die from the disease.

OSHA recommends that all occupationally exposed workers be vaccinated against hepatitis B. The agency also says that such workers need to make universal precautions a routine part of their jobs. In particular, that means treating all blood and other potentially infectious materials as if they are, in fact, infectious.

Other ways occupationally exposed workers can help protect themselves include:

  • Using appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, gloves, and goggles
  • Not washing or reusing disposable gloves
  • Handling sharp instruments carefully, and not recapping, removing, or bending needles
  • Putting all regulated waste into color-coded bags or containers with biomedical warning labels

Try the unique, self-directed, self-testing program, Interactive CD Course: Bloodborne Pathogens, at no cost or risk. Get the info.

As for employers, OSHA requires them to:

  • Determine which jobs involve occupational exposure and provide timely training.
  • Develop, review, and evaluate an exposure control plan.
  • Implement control methods to eliminate or minimize employee exposure.
  • Develop procedures for investigating bloodborne pathogen exposure incidents, including documentation of all incidents and injuries.
  • Periodically review and update control methods.
  • Actively solicit input from employees who have direct care responsibilities.

So how do you go about providing the bloodborne pathogens training required by OSHA? Our editors feel that BLR’s Interactive CD Course: Bloodborne Pathogens may be the ideal solution. This 80-slide, self-paced training will teach your employees how to:

  • Define bloodborne pathogens.
  • Describe common types of bloodborne pathogens and their signs and symptoms.
  • Recognize different sources of the pathogens.
  • Recognize tasks and activities that may involve exposure to bloodborne pathogens.
  • Identify different means of transmission and contamination.

Your trainees learn such key concepts as universal precautions and other potentially infectious material (OPIM); what PPE is available to protect against infection and when and how to use it; and what to do should an exposure occur.

The material is informative and engaging. The computer even allows for “hands-on” time, asking trainees to “dress” a typical worker in PPE to fit several situations. To ensure learning, users are asked to answer five “knowledge demonstrations” along the way, which will not let them proceed in the course unless completed successfully.

Workers who’ve used Interactive CD Course: Bloodborne Pathogens have both learned from and enjoyed using it, while the program’s completely self-directed nature freed supervisors from standing over them during the training.

The program is available for a 30-day, no-cost (not even return postage), no-risk trial in your workplace. Let us know, and we’ll be happy to arrange it for you.